What Americans are thinking heading into 2022 midterm elections

Economy and women's reproductive rights have US voters turning out in record numbers

President Joe Biden's Democratic Party is in danger of losing both houses of Congress in the midterm elections. AP
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US voters will head to the polls in this week's midterm elections after a year that saw a proliferation of gun violence, the emergence of Europe's largest war in decades, a historic inflation battle and the overturning of Roe v Wade.

These issues will be on many voters' minds when they elect who will represent them — not just in the US Congress, but also in governorships and statewide offices across the country.

Democratic and Republican candidates have spent months fine-tuning their messaging, all in the hope of remaining in power or knocking off their incumbent opponent.

Here are a few issues driving Americans to the polls in the 2022 US midterm elections in record numbers:

Follow the money

Inflation, now at 8.2 per cent, is taking a toll on Americans' household budgets. Consequently, many US voters this year will be voting with their finances in mind.

The economy ranks as “extremely important” among 49 per cent of all US voters, data from Gallup shows, its highest tally for a midterm election cycle in all but one year since 2002.

President Joe Biden has tried to quell inflationary fears by tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, passing the Inflation Reduction Act and touting US hiring numbers. But only 31 per cent of Americans approve of how he has handled the economy, Gallup polling shows.

Abortion and crime also rate highly among US voters' concerns. Meanwhile, gun control and immigration remain “third-tier issues”.

Republicans and Democrats split on economy and abortion

Whereas the economy ranks as extremely important for all US voters, it is an even more central issue for Republican voters, which could point to how they will vote.

Sixty-four per cent of Republican voters consider the economy to be “extremely important” as opposed to 33 per cent of Democrats.

A separate poll conducted by ABC/Ipsos shows most Americans trust the Republicans to handle the economy.

Meanwhile, women's reproductive rights remains the top issue for Democratic voters after the Supreme Court earlier this year overturned Roe versus Wade.

Mr Biden and other high-profile Democratic leaders have used the Supreme Court's decision to galvanise voters to elect politicians that would work to codify reproductive rights into federal law. The White House and others have warned that Republicans could impose a federal ban on abortion, though Republicans in Congress are split.

Meanwhile, “Relations with Russia”, polled for the first time, is a tertiary issue for both Republicans and Democrats as the war in Ukraine continues.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said there would no longer be a “blank cheque” to the war-torn country if the conservative party retakes the lower chamber.

Democrats suffered a self-inflicted wound when its progressive members sent a letter to Mr Biden urging him to engage directly with Russia. The caucus quickly retracted its letter after facing fierce criticism.

Climate change, crime and immigration remain partisan issues.

Americans dissatisfied with future

Few are happy with how things are going in the country, signalling that voters may want changes when electing who to serve them in Congress — a bad sign for the Democrat-held House and Senate.

Historically, those who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs (Republicans at 6 per cent) turn up at the polls more than those voters who are relatively happy with things (31 per cent for Democrats).

Still, early voting data compiled by CNN shows Democrats are turning out to the polls in bigger numbers than in 2020 and 2018 in three key states — Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. While it's positive for Democrats, voters of the party traditionally favour early voting more than Republicans do. More Republicans choose to vote on the day of the poll.

Additionally, a compilation of polling data by FiveThirtyEight on November 5 shows that 46.5 per cent of American voters support a Republican Congress, as opposed to 45.3 per cent for a Democratic Congress.

Eroding trust in US Congress

Confidence in the legislative branch of the US government, or Congress, has increasingly become partisan after years of unified shared levels of trust among parties in the country.

The two major US political parties never breached a 10 per cent difference in their distrust of Congress until this year.

Gallup polling shows a 30 per cent difference between Democrats (54 per cent) and Republicans (24 per cent) on their level of trust in Congress — as opposed to when both the parties shared 38 per cent confidence in the last legislative term.

A more partisan divide in trust of Congress does not bode well for an atmosphere that is seeing increasing levels of misinformation, electoral denial and political violence — from the January 6 insurrection that was based on a lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen to a violent attack on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband.

A New York Times/Siena College poll found in October that 28 per cent of all voters have little trust in the accuracy of results from midterm races, including 41 per cent of all Republicans.

Joe Biden: an unpopular president

While the presidency is not on the ballot, how American voters view Mr Biden can indicate how his Democratic Party will fare in the midterms.

How the power falls in Congress will largely decide the rest of his presidency.

As Mr Biden has low ratings, with 53 per cent disapproval, the midterms might be a response to his handling of the biggest issues on the minds of voters, while the president asserts the elections are also about saving democracy — but voters aren't making it a priority, a New York Times/Siena College poll found in October.

With his low approval rating, Mr Biden has stayed away from the campaign trail until recently, and it isn't clear how much of a draw that will bring to Democratic candidates.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 7:07 PM